Peter Goelz on the Benefits of Safety Stand-Downs

By: Peter Goelz, Senior Vice President

Following two deadly aviation accidents in the past month, the United States Marine Corps is considering a “stand-down” for all Marine fixed-wing and rotary aircraft.  A “stand-down” is a technique to focus intensely, on a short term basis, on an issue of real importance. The Marine Corps have used this technique in the past, as have other branches of the Armed Services particularly after accidents. In this case, the Marine Corps lost 15 service members (plus a Navy corpsman) when a KC-130T transport crashed in Mississippi, and then three more when an MV-22 Osprey crashed into the water off the coast of Australia as it attempted to land on the USS Green Bay, an amphibious transport dock. Top brass are considering now whether a system-wide review of safety and operational procedures is in order. Last year, the Marine Corps ordered safety stand-downs following crashes of F/A-18 fighters and after problems with their AV-8 Harrier jets.

The “stand-down” approach, while more common in aviation, has migrated to other fields as well. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has done an annual construction industry stand-down focusing on preventing falls on construction sites. Additionally, law enforcement, utility companies, and trucking companies are all utilizing variations of the “stand-down” as part of their efforts to increase safety and efficiency.

The approach to conducting a stand-down involves focusing system wide on a specific activity — usually safety or operations, and taking time out of the workday to talk top-to-bottom about the importance of the incident, to explore new approaches and, most importantly, to get feedback from employees on ways to improve. By initiating the stand-down event with top management at the forefront, a clear communication is sent: This is critical and we can do better together. A stand-down can last anywhere from a few hours to a day-long event.

O’Neill and Associates is experienced in planning and executing stand-downs for companies. As a SVP in the O’Neill and Associates Washington, DC office and former Managing Director of the National Transportation Safety Board, I have led our agency’s professionals to implement stand-downs on safety and operational issues for a number of organizations and helped create the positive messaging surrounding the event to enhance its impact. For more information on our Crisis Communications practice and safety stand-downs, email me at pgoelz@oneillandassoc.com.